I was on the radio with LaVar Arrington the other day, talking about how Robert Griffin III had a much higher pop-culture ceiling in D.C. than Bryce Harper because of certain hard-to-verbalize demographic reasons blah blah blah.
“Say it,” LaVar said. “Just say it.”
Well, the D.C. Grays — the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League’s newest expansion team, and the first such team in the District — will go ahead and just say it.
The wood-bat team has “kind of made it [our] mission to make us a real destination for some of the best black college ballplayers in the country,” Mike Barbera, the team’s president, told me this week. “I’d love if we got to the point where the best black college players in the country wanted to play a summer with us, to make that a thing to check off on their to-do list. I’d love school-aged kids to see black college ballplayers who made it through baseball, got a scholarship through baseball. I think that’s a great thing for the community.”
The team’s primary goals, of course, are to develop talent and win baseball games. Barbera thinks they’ll do so, despite not getting approved until September and thus getting a late start on roster construction.
But there are other goals — “to make the great game of baseball available and accessible to all,” as the team’s Web site puts it. Which is why Barbera wants his players to consider themselves not just summer-league players, but “ambassadors for baseball in Washington.”
And thus, there is the team nickname, which was also used by a team in the now-defunct Clark Griffith League.
“We always wanted to be the Grays,” Barbera said. “The Senators had some great teams way back. The Nationals have a great team now. But I think most people would agree the best teams ever to play in the District of Columbia were the old Homestead Grays. We always wanted to honor them.”
There are the uniforms, designed by Under Armour as a throwback homage to the 1939 Grays and “to evoke the baseball history of Washington.” The team’s GM, Antonio Scott, played baseball at Howard. So did board member Brad Burris, who helped found the Clark Griffith League Grays with Scott, and who has helped train former Redskins safety LaRon Landry.
The team — which has seven black players on its inaugural roster — is playing home games at Gallaudet’s new Hoy Field in Northeast, less than two miles from Griffith Stadium, where the Grays once played. The Grays will host free camps and clinics for kids “from every corner of the D.C. community,” and a Capitol Hill Little League night later this week; there are also plans to partner with the Nats on other community service projects.
The team is a 501(c)(3) run by volunteers; entry to games is free, although there’s a $5 charge for parking. The first home game is Wednesday at 5; there are no lights yet, so all games will end before nightfall. The dugouts and PA system are also works in progress, but Barbera said his goal is to turn at least one kid into a lifelong baseball fan at every home game, starting Wednesday.
“We all share the same goal,” Barbera said. “We love baseball, we love college baseball and we want to promote baseball in D.C.”